Chief, analyst call for SAFER barriers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jeff Gordon said Tuesday he will be ready to race this weekend, even though the four-time NASCAR champion has a stiff back from his spectacular accident at Watkins Glen

Gordon, who has been bothered by an aching back for more than a year, went head-on into a steel barrier during Monday's road course race. The impact aggravated his back, but he should be able to handle this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway.

"Luckily, Michigan is up next and it's been pretty easy on my back in the past," Gordon said of the sweeping, 2-mile superspeedway.

The six-car accident also had Jeff Burton dealing with soreness Tuesday, while the crew chief for Sam Hornish Jr. said his driver was surprised at how well he felt.

Gordon, Burton and Hornish got the worst of the accident that began when Hornish was run off course into a tire barrier. Hornish's car shot back onto the track and into the path of Gordon, who hit the barrier.

"He's doing really well," crew chief Travis Geisler said. "He said he was in good shape and was just going to take it easy today and get a little rest, but otherwise he was in good shape."

Geisler praised the safety standards of NASCAR's current cars for allowing the drivers to walk away unharmed. But he questioned why Watkins Glen does not have energy-absorbing barriers that would have lessened the blow Gordon took when his car hit a steel fence.

Geisler also thinks a gravel trap should be added to the area outside Turn 9 where the crash originated.

There are several gravel traps at various points around the 2.45-mile road course, but not where Hornish went off course. The track also lacks a SAFER barrier anywhere around the facility.

"There wasn't any room for him to get kicked back out into the middle of the race track and not be hit by another car," Geisler said. "I would really ask that Watkins Glen take a look at what they have there. I believe it's a pretty fast, high-speed section with not a lot of runoff.

"They do a great job with the gravel traps in a lot of other corners there, and, I think, they could probably push the wall back a little bit [in Turn 9], maybe add some SAFER barriers -- which we have at all the other race tracks we go to -- and put a little gravel runoff in there so that you trap a car when it goes off."

Nationwide Series driver Jason Leffler was in a hard single-car accident during a Friday practice. Like Hornish, Leffler's car hit a tire barrier and shot back onto the track.

ESPN analyst Ray Evernham, who won three championships as Gordon's crew chief, echoed Geisler's call for improved barriers at Watkins Glen.

"Is there a better way of building a soft wall or something to absorb the impact other than the tires?" Evernham asked during a teleconference. "The tires seem to take that energy and then throw the car back further than we've seen soft walls and other things do."